One thing I hate is to purchase a commentary with hope of learning only to be completely let down by the effort. As a minister, I want to read as much material as I can for a study. But all of us have commentaries on our bookshelves that we do not use because they were not valuable to our study. Of late, the worst purchase I made was the Baker Exegetical Commentary on Matthew by David Turner. I love the Baker Exegetical Commentary series, but the Matthew commentary was an enormous let down. Too often Turner glosses over parables and teachings, seeming to assume that everyone knows what the text means. By contrast, the Baker Exegetical Commentary on Luke by Darrell Bock is two volumes and leaves no stone unturned. It is a brilliant commentary. So I thought I would do my part in sharing some quick thoughts on each of the Romans commentaries I am using. I have studied and preached through Romans 11 and believe I have used these commentaries enough to give an educated review. I am ordering this list in terms of their usefulness. You may have a different order because certain writers were more useful to you. The point of this review is not to argue over which commentary is better. I simply want to share with our readers which commentaries were the most useful to me in my preaching and teaching from Romans. All of the Romans commentaries listed below have been valuable to me in varying degrees. But if you are only going to purchase one Romans commentary, then purchase the number one listed below. If you can only afford three commentaries, then purchase the top three (and etc).
1. Baker Exegetical Commentary by Thomas Schreiner.
This has been the most beneficial commentary I have used in my study of Romans. Schreiner does an excellent job explaining his own position, but also explaining the position of others. Schreiner interacts with opposing positions, giving reasons why he does not go along with other interpretations. I found this very valuable since I did not purchase the Greek commentaries, since I am not a Greek scholar and cannot read Greek. But Schreiner repeatedly tells his readers what those commentaries say (like Cranfield) so that the reader has a good feel for the various views of a given text. This is the primary reason why if you are going to own only one commentary on Romans, Schreiner is a must own. Most of the Greek words are translated so readers who do not know Greek are not missing out of the depth Schreiner teaches. Schreiner also interacts with the New Perspective, which is very important today and where older commentaries fail. It seems to me that Schreiner takes a hybrid position, taking the good points of the traditional view of Romans and the good points of the New Perspective to draw some very insightful conclusions from the letter. In my opinion, Schreiner’s work has become the new standard reference for ministers and teachers.
2. New Interpreter’s Bible by N.T. Wright (volume X, includes Acts and 1 Corinthians by other authors)
When teaching Romans, it is important to learn about the New Perspective “from the horse’s mouth” rather than relying on authors telling you about the New Perspective, but do not accept it. Wright does an excellent job explaining the letter from the New Perspective and also explains where he sees deficiencies in the traditional view. Wright is very thought-provoking and I hope people will not dismiss his observations outright, without considering his arguments. While I do not agree with many points Wright makes, there are many points where Wright hits the mark and helps make the most sense of some of the letter’s difficulties. This is an expensive volume, but do not neglect it.
3. Pillar New Testament Commentary by Leon Morris.
This is a hard decision between Morris and Moo (see below #4). But I went with Morris at number three for a few reasons. Morris is very concise, which is nice after reading Schreiner and Wright. Morris does a great job at simply getting to the point. He does not interact much with other views. He simply tells you what the text means, and this is very helpful when you already have Schreiner revealing other positions. Further, Morris often says something that none of my other commentaries said about the verse. Because this commentary was written in 1988, there is not interaction with the New Perspective. This keeps Morris from going higher in the rankings. But if you have the above two books, you will not be lacking in knowledge on the New Perspective and Morris will give you some great insights that others do not catch.
4. New International Commentary on the New Testament by Douglas Moo.
Moo’s commentary is also excellent. Just because I ranked Moo at number four should not all cause anyone to think that Moo has not published a quality, useful work. Moo’s fourth position is simply a testimony to the strength of the other commentaries. Schreiner refers to Moo regularly and offers similar interpretations to Moo. This is the only reason why I placed Moo at number four rather than at number three. This commentary is worth the purchase. The footnotes are very extensive, often taking up more than half of the page. With over 1000 pages, Moo extensively covers Romans and does a good job interacting with other interpretations and positions. If you have about $160, please purchase all four commentaries and you will be set to go in your studies.
Here are some of the other commentaries I also consulted, but found to not be as useful as these top four works.
5. Expositor’s Bible Commentary by Everett Harris
Harris does a good job bringing in some new observations in an easy to read way. After other commentaries have spent pages and pages on a particular verse, Harris often comes up with a brilliant sentence to summarize what everyone else has been teaching.
6. Word Biblical Commentary by James D.G. Dunn
Many insightful thoughts and also takes a New Perspective view that is somewhat different that Wright’s analysis. But I have always found the format of the Word Biblical Commentary series to be prohibiting. I was able to get both volumes used for under $20. If you can get a good deal, pick up Dunn’s work.
7. Cornerstone Biblical Commentary by Roger Mohrlang
I really like the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary series. The series gets straight to the point and to the meaning of the text. There were many places where I felt Mohrlang did not deal with the difficulties of the text, opting to simply summarize the paragraph. In other places the work is very insightful.
8. Truth Commentary by Clinton Hamilton
Overall, a very nice work and deals with many opposing viewpoints. Hamilton spends far too much time giving Greek words and defining those words rather than expounding on the text, in my opinion. I wish Hamilton would have written more about the meaning of the text than defining the individual words in the text. But it is still a useful reference work.
9. New Testament Commentary by William Hendrikson
I enjoy the New Testament Commentary series by Hendrikson and Kistemaker. I do feel somewhat let down by the Romans commentary, however. It is just not a good and not as useful as the top four commentaries listed above.
10. New International Commentary on the New Testament by John Murray (1959)
I picked up this copy used online for under $5. For that price no student can go wrong. Moo’s work does a great job in replacing this work in the NICNT series. But Murray is worth having in the library and worth consulting if the price is right.
I hope this review is helpful for those who are studying Romans. I strongly recommend saving your money and buying the first four commentaries for your study. With those four, I think you will be able to have enough information of varying views to make an educated and informed interpretation of Paul’s letter to the Romans. This summer I am going to preach through James and I plan to give my review of those commentaries this fall.